Cyprus: The island the world forgot

Cyprus: The island the world forgot

At 6 a.m. on July 20, 1974, Turkish troops stormed into the Republic of Cyprus in accordance with Article III of the Treaty of Guarantee of the first constitution of 1960. This mandated each of the guaranteeing parties – Greece, Turkey and Great Britain – “to take action with the sole aim of re-establishing the state of affairs” if that were ever threatened. A few days earlier, the Greek junta had done just that by launching a coup with the explicit aim of annexing the island to Greece. This included assassinating the legitimate president, Archbishop Makarios III, and installing its own. The latter was achieved but Makarios managed to escape.

Turkey has always argued that as a guarantor, it was within its legal right to launch what it has for years insisted was a “peace mission.” Also, that it was genuinely concerned about the fate of the island’s Turkish minority – 18 percent at the time.

The main problem with this argument is that after Turkey had “intervened,” order was restored, a legitimate president was reinstated, and the preservation of the constitution and the “re-establishing of the state of affairs” were achieved, and therefore no further action was required – action that saw the violent displacement of thousands of people.

During the early phase of its “peace mission,” Turkey captured 3 percent of the island. On August 14, 1974, however, while negotiations were taking place in Geneva, it launched a full-scale invasion, capturing 37 percent of the island. The Greek-Cypriot population of the north was relentlessly bombed by the advancing Turkish Army. They were forced from their homes terrified and confused. Families were split, girls raped, men arrested; 1,000 are still missing. In all, 170,000 Greek Cypriots were ejected from their ancestral lands. Turkey subsequently stationed 35,000 troops on the island, which remain there to this day. In the name of its “peace mission,” it embarked on an ethnic cleansing campaign in the north by replacing the displaced Greek Cypriots with settlers from the Turkish hinterland so as to permanently alter the demographics, thus making it extremely difficult to reach any viable solution. It destroyed ancient cultural heritage and sold artifacts and the properties of those who had been forced from their homes.

In 1975 the Ford administration in the United States imposed an arms embargo on Turkey only for it to be lifted by the Carter administration in 1978 on the basis that Turkey was too “vital to the national interests of the US and NATO.” Turkey clearly remains geopolitically invaluable – which is the reason no one is prepared to genuinely challenge its increasingly belligerent posturing in the Eastern Mediterranean. The past few months have seen it constantly threatening or harassing vessels of foreign companies legally drilling for gas in the region. Although a step in the right direction, recent sanctions by the European Union and US are widely viewed by Greek Cypriots as lip service, another tokenistic gesture aimed at pulling the wool over their eyes. The Turkish leadership has scoffed at the sanctions, saying they will not affect its actions or presence in the region in the slightest.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar have lately stated that Turkey will never relinquish its “right” as a guarantor power in Cyprus and that the 35,000 troops will remain on the island regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. They have also threatened to “re-invade” the island if anyone dares challenge Turkey’s rights in the Eastern Mediterranean – including its right to illegally drill in the territorial waters of the Republic of Cyprus. With the 45th anniversary of the August invasion approaching, there is no reason to believe that Turkey is genuinely interested in a viable solution to the Cyprus question. Its aim is to prolong the status quo for as long as it can, hoping that the world will sooner or later forget about Cyprus. Until then, 170,000 Greek-Cypriot refugees dream of justice. They dream of caressing the walls of their old homes, smelling the morning air in their villages and visiting what is left of the graves of their forefathers before they die. It is time the Cyprus question was defined by what it truly is – a deplorable crime against humanity.

Dr Dimitri Gonis is a lecturer in the Greek Studies Program at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.

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